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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight


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If we think about it for a little while, it's possible to believe that there is something almost mystic and undeniably powerful about jazz. The way it developed through the years and its constant ignition-like energy; the creativity of those who lead the way and those who continue the journey today; the improvisation that takes over souls and willingly delivers its magic for an amazed world to listen.

Jazz is a growing teenager whose future is as wide and vast as the horizon that lies before its tapping feet. Looking back, one also realizes that nothing you ever heard before can quite be compared to anything you are hearing today, for jazz is a never-ending adventure, and part of its ongoing, boundless imagination gently rests its head on a past so brilliant that the mind can only welcome what the heart feels...and that can only be described with music.

That is when Christian McBride comes in handy. His versatility has been praised and admired for years, making it seem as though the 37-year-old bassist extraordinaire should be in his late seventies by now. He has mastered an instrument that for many is the absolute essence of jazz, guilty of giving it a sense of unity and control. The former Juillard student's work with a bow is a simple, and rather delicate indication of just how deep his artistry really goes.

Leave it to the bassist to show you the way to musical perfection. And better yet, leave it to him to show you a good time while listening to his new straight-ahead band, Inside Straight, with Carl Allen on drums, Eric Reed (a most celebrated side man for Wynton Marsalis) at the piano, Steve Wilson (Dave Holland Big Band) on sax and Warren Wolf Jr., on vibes, completing this faultless circle that he has created for his new studio project, Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue Records, 2009).

Some may think Ray Brown and maybe Paul Chambers while listening to a still-young-enough Christian McBride, but the Philly native is truly his own artist, and always has been. At this point in his career, he does not need the comparisons that many still keep trying to impose on him. Kind of Brown is nothing but an unnecessary proof of greatness—something to listen to while getting ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, McBride is one of the best things that has ever happened to jazz in particular, and music in general.

All About Jazz: I have heard a little bit about the process of coming up with the name of Inside Straight. Tell me about that.

Christian McBride: [Laughs] Yeah...Two years ago I was hanging out in the Village Vanguard one night, and I realized that I hadn't played there in 10 years! And any jazz musician worth his salt should be playing the Village Vanguard. So I asked Lorraine Gordon, the owner of the club, if it would be okay if I came back, and she said, "Of course it would be okay, I'd love for you to come back, but you know what we do down here. I don't want that band that you usually play with here, that is not a band for the Village Vanguard," talking about the Christian McBride Band. I said "I know, I know, I'll put a band together just for this gig." So I called Steve Wilson, Warren Wolf, Eric Reed and Carl Allen, and we went down there and played, and it turned out to be such a successful week, musically, commercially, financially, that we were all happy.

Everybody was happy, Lorraine was happy, we had a full house crowds for each show for six nights in a row...The writing was on the wall, I had to keep the band together, and all the guys on the band wanted to keep on playing together, people who came for the show wanted me to keep the band together, there were a lot of people from different record labels that were interested, and even they said "look, whether we sign you or not, make sure you keep this band together." So it was overwhelming. I didn't think I was going to be able to keep the band together, because everyone in the band has their own projects, especially Eric Reed, Carl Allen and Steve Wilson.

Christian McBrideSo it took us almost a year to play together again, but we finally got some gigs booked, and that's when we played the Monterey Jazz Festival, and this is also right before we went into the studio to record Kind of Brown. So we were in Monterrey, and we were listed as the Christian McBride Quintet, and you know, every jazz band in the world with five guys is called a quintet. It's boring. There's no creativity whatsoever. For all the creativity jazz musicians have when it comes to making music, we have no creativity when it comes to naming our bands! It's always such and such quintet, such and such quartet, such and such trio...oh man, so boring. So what could we name our band?

So we were all sitting around trying to think of a name for the band, and my manager and I looked at each other and he said "look, let's have a contest, we'll have the audience name the band." So we got on stage at the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and we announced this contest for naming the band. And then people who came to the show that night were sending their submission to my Web site, and then the following night we would announce the winner. Turns out we got almost 3,500 submission in 24 hours! And it was just too many to go through in 24 hours. I would have needed a team to go through all of that! So it took about a week to go through everything, but we finally settled for Inside Straight. The couple that named the band, Debra and Doug Moody, they are responsible for the name of the group.

AAJ: And why did you like this one and not another one?

CMB: It was catchy, you know? Inside Straight. It's a little...I don't know, it has that little element of hooliganism in it, Inside Straight being a poker hand, for people who play poker. And also musically it describes the band. It's inside, and it's straight ahead, it's a totally acoustic quintet, much different from the band I had been playing with for so many years. I think that's why everybody liked it so much. Everybody was joking; people were so excited to hear me play straight ahead acoustic jazz again. So I thought "wait a minute, my band was not exactly a rock band, you know?"

Yeah, but people like the real straight ahead stuff, so Inside Straight seemed to make a lot of sense all along.

AAJ: So why did it take you so long to play at the Village Vanguard? Was it only because of the kind of music you were playing with the Christian McBride Band, or...?

CMB: Yes, that's exactly why. But what's funny is that I didn't even play at the Vanguard with anyone else! I mean, inside that 10 year span, I've done gigs with Benny Green, I've done a few gigs here and there with Joshua Redman, I've played with other different bands that could have played the Village Vanguard, they just didn't. I don't know why. But I think that the main reason was, like you said, because of the music that I've been playing with the Christian McBride Band. But that's all been rectified now, our band was born at the Vanguard.

AAJ: Is there any club, I don't know if the best, but maybe where you have felt the best, more comfortable? I don't know, maybe the vibe with the people, or the club itself, maybe something to do with the history of the club...

CMB: Yeah, there's a couple of clubs that I think are rally hip. In Detroit there's a place called Baker's Keyboard Lounge, which is a really old club. I believe it's the third or the fourth oldest jazz club in the country. It opened in the '30s or '40s, and that's a really, really great club. It's obvious they haven't remodeled much since then, so it definitely has this old time feel in there, and people who come to that club are like the old school, serious jazz fans. They know what's happened. It's in a black neighborhood, and a lot of hip people come to this club. So that's one of my favorite places to play, Baker's.

Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis is another one of my favorites. I like audiences that react to the music, I like audiences that participate, I like audiences that holler and scream. Most jazz clubs now are not really jazz clubs, they are restaurants that happen to have jazz, you know? The music is secondary to people eating their food, and it's hard to really get a good vibe in a place like that, because people are there to eat and not necessarily to hear music, so St. Louis, Jazz at the Bistro, is one of those places where people come to listen to the music first. They don't let the food distract them from what's happening on that stage, and that Yoshi's in Oakland is one I like too, always had a good relationship with the audiences at the Bay area.

Then many places here in New York: Village Vanguard, the Iridium, Dizzy's, Birdland, The Jazz Standard...all the joints! I don't think there's any argument that the New York audience is super hip!

AAJ: Have you ever had that feeling of "man, I wish I would have been born fifty years ago," musically speaking?

CMB: Not really. I think that...(silence).. I was very fortunate to play with a lot of older cats. I had a chance to spend a lot of time around people like Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Roy Haynes, Dr. Billy Taylor, the real founding fathers of bebop, and when I was around them, when they would start telling stories, they really did take me back to that time; I felt like I got into a time capsule when they would sit around and tell stories. But they were always very careful, and I find that this is the case with a lot of older musicians; we today always romanticize their time, and they all say "those good old days that you all talk about weren't that great most of the time." Yeah, the music was great, but there was a whole lot surrounding that music that wasn't so great, like the segregation, racism, the poor traveling conditions for musicians in those days, so they all said that it was a big drag a lot of the time.

So they would always say "you wouldn't want to go back in those days, and re-live all the BS part that went along with the music, so you guys should be happy where you are now." So I tend to agree, I'm happy with the time I was born in.

Christian McBrideAAJ: So, I asked you why "Inside Straight" ... Why "Kind of Brown"?

CMB: [Laughs] That is a little bit more confusing, I don't know why "Kind of Brown." I just thought it sounded cool. [Laughs] I was hanging out in a bar one night with Billy Childs and Jeff Tain Watts, and we were just hanging, talking, having fun, and the phrase "kind of brown" came up. I don't know what we were talking about exactly but I said to myself "I kinda like that...kind of brown...I'm gonna put that away." That's how it happened. I knew that at some point somebody was going to have some bright idea that I was trying to compare this to Miles Davis, which is absolutely ridiculous, but fortunately I haven't had too many of those complaints. I think I've only had one, since the recording's been out. Maybe one or two people have said "how could you do such thing to insult Miles Davis?!." It's just a name, I think people just need to chill out.

AAJ: So why did you decide to put this particular band together? Why Carl Allen, Eric Reed, Steve Wilson and Warren Wolf?

Christian McBrideCMB: Well, knowing that I was going to play the Village Vanguard, which is the haven for real straight ahead jazz, and real creative music, I called the top New York guns that I could think of. You know, Steve Wilson is a Vanguard regular, he is always playing there with someone. And Carl Allen and I have so much history together, he was a no-brainer. Eric Reed, we've been friends for 20 years, but we've never played together that often. A gig here, and gig there, but nothing where we had a chance to stretch out and make a lot of music, so I was excited about calling Eric.

And Warren, well, he was actually a former student of mine at Jazz Aspen Snowmass, the summer program that I've been the artistic director of for the last 10 years. He came out in the summer of, I believe 2000, and he was so incredible, he was so far ahead from everyone else. I promised to him, "Warren, one of these days I'm gonna start a band with you in it." That's how good he was. And it took a little while, but I called him, and wherever we go he's a big hit, he's going to be a superstar very soon.

AAJ: I think I have to admit that the first time I heard anything from this album, probably my first thought was "huh, why did he choose vibes?" It's not that common.

CMB: Well, not that many people play it. It's like nowadays you can find an abundance of really good saxophone and trumpet players, and drummers; there's too many of them, especially drummers...But vibraphonists, there aren't that many of them. The ones that can play are really incredible. I just always loved the sound of vibes. All music that includes vibes gives it this airborne sort of lift. Warren is just one of the best I've ever heard at the instrument, so...I've always been a fan of vibes. Even now a lot of people would hear the instrument and they don't know what they are. They think it's that instrument they played in elementary school (xylophone). No, it's not the same. [Laughs]

AAJ: I was thinking about something the other day, trying to remember when the first time that I remember hearing you was, as in knowing who you were, and that was with "In a hurry," from Gettin' to it (Polygram Records/Verve, 1995).

CMB: Well, you know it's amazing to me how many people still comment on my first record. I saw the producer of that record not too long ago, and he told me that that album is still selling, and it's sold almost a 100,000 copies worldwide, which for a jazz record is pretty damn good. So I have very good memories of my first CD, it was very special in a lot of levels.

AAJ: The next thing I remember about Christian McBride is seeing you on the Kansas City movie set. That's when my father was saying "that kid can play."

CMB: [Laughs] Yeah... Kansas City, that brings a lot of great memories, getting to work with Harry Belafonte, Robert Altman and all these people from the film industry. We spent about three weeks in Kansas City, and I don't have any bad memories whatsoever, but the fun memory I have of Kansas City was the fact that we had barbecue every single day, so I didn't want to see any barbecued ribs for about a year! We were so full, everybody in the band had so much gas after we did that movie, that it wasn't funny. [Laughs]

AAJ: I actually don't remember what the movie is about, I just remember the music.

CMB: Yeah, it seems that most people that saw the movie don't remember the plot of the movie. I actually had a call from Harry Belafonte about a month ago. I think he is making a CD for the first time in many, many years, and he asked me to play with him but unfortunately I couldn't do it, I was in Japan. But I was so happy to hear from him again, I thought he had forgotten about me. [Laughs]

AAJ: Is there a certain pattern you follow when it comes to deciding which compositions you will be recording for an album?

Christian McBrideCMB: The whole concept of composing is one that I still don't have a firm grasp on yet. I do a fair job of it, I guess, but being around someone like Chick Corea or Wayne Shorter or Pat Metheny, these guys are so prolific, they write music all the time, especially Chick. He can write you a symphony in like an hour because he is so used to being creative, sitting down on the piano and actually writing music. It's a skill, you have to do it every day, just like everything else, you have to develop it and hone it. So, I've never done it often enough to really get a firm grasp on it. I'm working at that though. With this new band I am playing with, I've actually been forced to write new music, so it's good for me.

AAJ: How do you decide what you want to record for an album?

CMB: I guess the same way you would think about putting together a set. You want to open with a song that has some energy. I've always liked real raw energy. It seems like jazz records that lean more towards the mellow side sell better. Well, what is better in jazz—25,000 units? [Laughs] But I like music that tends to swing hard and hit hard. So I like to put together a variety of songs that have some energy and want to balance it out with some mellow things, maybe a ballad, maybe a bossa nova, or a "straight eighths" song, as we say in the business, something that features me.

One of my favorite things to do on all of my records is to play something with the bow. Having been trained at Juilliard, I like to play with the bow often. For my first record [Gettin' to it] I did a feature where I played "Night Train"; on my second CD [Number Two Express (Polygram, 1996)] I did a feature where I played "Little Sunflower," where I over-dubbed a bunch of different basses, kind of making somewhat of an orchestral arrangement; and on "Kind of Brown" I did "Where are you." Eric Reed and I just played a duet. So I tend to think about building a CD the same way I think about building a set, just giving the listener a good variety of different things to listen to.

AAJ: And if you had to choose between electric and acoustic, which one would you pick, if you really had to choose between the two of them?

Onstage with Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette

CMB: Oh, I am sure I would choose acoustic. The acoustic bass is Mother Earth. That is the instrument that gives birth to all music, I believe. Somebody once said in an interview that, it resonated with me and it seems very, very true. He said that "drums are the father of all music and bass is the mother." Somehow, a lot of times, you feel a song with the rhythm first, you just kinda feel some kind of rhythmic pattern in your head, your feet start moving, your hands start moving, you're like "what is that?" That's the drums. It's the rhythm you're feeling; then you start feeling this harmony, you start feeling what's going to go with it, and it usually starts with the bass. So I'm going to have to agree with that. I would pick the acoustic bass, because it's wood, it's big, it's natural, it's organic, it's of the Earth, and it's Mother Nature.

AAJ: The influence of your father and great-uncle.

CMB: They are both bass players. My dad is the reason why I play the bass. When I was six or seven years old, I saw my dad play for the first time, and it was so incredible to sit in the audience and watch my dad play with this Latin jazz legend named Mongo Santamaria. I had so much fun. And I think that after that concert I just got curious, so I told my mother that I wanted a bass, and I didn't play for a couple of years, but I was nine years old, and I fell in love with the instrument.

As soon as I touched an electric bass I knew that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was so natural. I was fortunate enough that I discovered my love early in life. But then my mother saw that I was becoming really, really serious about it, and was empathetic about it, and she decided she would send me to a school that had a good music program. And that is when I started playing the double-bass, the acoustic bass. And I started studying privately with a woman from the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra, and that was my introduction to classical music and classical bass, and I fell in love with that, too. At first I didn't like it as much as the electric bass.

Of course you wouldn't, when you're 11-years-old, you just want to play pop music, or rock 'n roll or funk music, or whatever all of your peers are listening to. But eventually I learned to love the acoustic bass as well, and that's when my great uncle came into the picture. He turned me on to Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Charles Mingus, Buster Williams, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland...He's the one that really, really was responsible for turning me on to the great, great bass legends.

And I want to think that I had some sort of small influence on my dad too, because he didn't start playing the acoustic bass seriously until four or five years after I started playing it. He played the electric bass exclusively his whole career, and when I started playing the acoustic bass he started to show some interest in it, and now he is playing the acoustic bass.

AAJ: Do you think you would have been a different kind of person if your father would have been a postman, or a lawyer, that still loved jazz, but didn't play?

CMB: I don't know! That's a tough one because there's always been music in the family in some way; my great uncle also being a musician; my uncle, my mother's brother, worked for a very popular radio station growing up, so I was always going to live concerts for as long I can remember. From the time that I was like four years old, I was very lucky to see people like Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Knight, The Whispers, The O'Jays, James Brown, of course, so I think I would have been in the show business in some kind of way.

AAJ: You said "James Brown, of course," what is it with James Brown?

CMB: [Sigh] Anybody who's ever seen him knows the answer to that. [Laughs] Anybody who's ever experienced his music deeply knows the answer to that. James Brown had a line to what makes people move more than anybody, I think, of his generation, and of many generations.

I think we, as human beings, I don't want to sound too deep or silly, I should say, but I think as human beings, there is a natural dance tempo. There is a tempo that all human beings might agree it is a good dance tempo; James Brown figured out what that was. There's not one song of his that doesn't make you dance. You can make the argument that a lot of his music is repetitious, it sounds the same, too derivative of itself. But I mean, you got to admit, when you want some music that's gonna give you some power, and really is going to get you going, James Brown will never, ever, let you down.

Christian McBrideThe first time I saw James Brown perform live I was seven years old. It was on an old TV show called The Midnight Special, and it ruined me forever because I had never seen anybody perform before with that type of intensity, and I'd seen a bunch of great R&B performers by that time, a whole lot of the great Motown artists. But seeing James Brown in front of his band, screaming, and dancing like that... I mean it was just...I just sat in front of the television with my mouth hanging on the ground going "oh my God, what is this?!" So I was literally ruined for life. So the first time I saw him live I think I was 10-years-old, at a place in Philly called The Academy of Music, and I remember being in the audience, scared, before he came on stage. I just had never felt that kind of excitement for a concert before. For a sporting event, like a basketball game or a baseball game, yeah, you get excited, you scream for your team, but for a concert, I was nervous. I remember thinking "I don't know if I really want to be here." It was just too intense.

Even before James Brown came out on stage, you could cut the tension with a knife in the audience. I just sat in my seat like...petrified. But it certainly was one of the most memorable nights ever of my entire life, just being that close and watching this mad man perform on stage. And of course by that time I think he was in his fifties already. Everybody was so much into Michael Jackson, God rest his soul...Michael was great, too, but seeing James Brown then it became obvious where Michael got it from, so Michael didn't seem quite as impressive as everyone else thought he was. Yeah, he was great at what he did, but James Brown was such an original.

AAJ: Were you nervous when you played with James Brown? Did you feel like that 10-year-old kid again?

Christian McBride & Inside Straight

CMB: No, the irony is that when I finally got to play with him I wasn't nervous at all. I've always believed that there was some type of divine intervention when we wind up working together. I was so fortunate to have such a close, personal relationship with James Brown by the time we worked together. When that time came, when we did that concert at the Hollywood Bowl, yes, I was nervous, but I realized that I had a job to do, and I wasn't petrified like I was seeing him as a kid. I feel like I've known his music so well, I have such an intimate relationship with his music that I wasn't nervous at all. I probably should have been, but I wasn't.

AAJ: You mentioned Michael Jackson, what did it mean to you as a musician to lose somebody like him so soon?

CMB: You know, I've always felt bad for Michael Jackson. We know that ever since he was a child he had a spotlight on him. He never really had a moment where he was just able to be an anonymous citizen of the world that could just go out and do whatever he wanted to, because somebody was always chasing him, somebody always had a camera on him. I can't imagine what it feels like to have an overbearing father, just completely towering over your life, and to be that successful at such a young age to where you have no life. So I always felt very bad for Michael Jackson. Yes, he's a great artist, and he did some amazing things as a performer, but there is always a bigger part, at least to me. I always wanted him to kinda retire and get off the scene and have a life, but I guess he was never able to do that.

And then you know, the minute after he died, the second after he died, the jokes came. It was like everything I hoped that it wouldn't happen, happened. The media frenzy, the doctor killed him, that they did it on purpose, his father making a complete fool of himself doing all these interviews... I wish they wouldn't do this, but you know, welcome to America.

AAJ: So back to your music, I know there's probably a reason behind the Christian McBride, as far as why you chose to go electric for so long, for like eight years. Why did you do that? I mean, I have nothing against it, I'm just curious.

CMB: Well, first of all, I actually never thought of that band as an electric band, because I did spend most of my time playing the acoustic bass there. But yes, it was a band that had a lot of layers; it could do a lot of things other than play acoustic straight ahead jazz. Even when we played straight ahead jazz it still had that little shadow of electricity in it, and after a while, especially when we played live and did songs like "Boogie Woogie Waltz," it would get loud, so I've always heard that people only remember the last thing that they hear. So when we would play a song like that for about 15 minutes, playing all this electric, people had already completely forgotten that we played like five acoustic tunes before that. I say all of that to say that I had never thought of that band as an all electric band, but it was fun to play with that band, because that was the only band that I played in that did everything.

We could play straight ahead, we could play fusion, we could play funk, we could go classical if we wanted to, it was an all-in band. And no band that I ever played in was like that, except the Five Peace Band, the tour I did with Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. That was the closest thing I've ever experienced to a perfect band, at least something that I've always dreamt about being in, a band that could go anywhere at any time. That was another reason why Inside Straight made sense to put together, because after I played with Chick and John I didn't need to get back with my guys again, I needed to do something else.

AAJ: Are you going to put that band together again?

CMB: Oh yeah, we'll be back. We will definitely be back. I don't know when but we will be back. Everybody is so busy, doing their things, especially Ron Blake. When he joined the Saturday Night Live Band, that really changed things, because he was no longer available on Saturdays, and what kind of jazz ensemble, what kind of touring band can't work on Saturdays? So, for the longest time I had to keep finding saxophone players to sit in for him, and it became a problem after a while. But yes, sooner or later we will be back, you can believe that.

AAJ: I know you've been busy in the studio before you started touring with Inside Straight. Different collaborations with Dee Dee Bridgewater and others. Tell me a little bit about that.

CMB: It's been so many of them, fortunately. I've actually done a lot of work with Angelique Kidjo. Angelique and I, we struck up a really tight bond about two years ago. We both performed at the grand opening of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky. And it was one of the biggest events I've ever been a part of. Everybody was there! All of the great fighters, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, all of the great sports casters, James Taylor Quartet performed, I played with Herbie Hancock.

Christian McBrideIt was an amazing event, and Angelique Kidjo was one of the performers, and I told her how much of a fan I'd been of hers. And my wife, Melissa, she really loves Angelique Kidjo, (said), "go talk to her, get her number, I want you guys to work together." And I was like, well, she already had a band, and I really don't have any projects in mind to do anything with world music, but I rapped with Angelique and she likes James Brown [Laughs]. Watching her on stage you get tired. She has boundless energy. I mean, you lock yourself in a room with Angelique for about 15 minutes, and you'll be coughing, and breathing heavily and going "man, I feel like I just ran off the block," and that energy comes through her music.

I've done a lot of work with her this year. She is a guest on my duets series, Conversations with Christian; I was a guest on her new CD, coming out I think early next year; and I did another project with her, she did a special project for Starbucks, just like two songs, and I performed with her on that as well, so she is one of the people that I worked with a lot this year. And then Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Carter, Melissa Walker [Walker] has a new CD that just came out that I played on...So yeah, I guess there have been quite a number of things that I've done in the studio this year.

AAJ: And what about the Conversations with Christian, how's that going?

CMB: That's going very well. It's a monthly Podcast, that's been going on all year. The first one came out in February. And each month I released a different duet, and in February all of those duets are going to be released in one CD, and it's on unedited form. Right now the podcasts are mainly a snip of the actual performance, and it's me interviewing my guests, so when the CD comes out it will be all unedited duet performances. It's been going really, really well. It's been a dream, because I never thought that so many people would agree to do it. That's the thing I've been more shocked by it, you know? Sting did it, George Duke, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hank Jones, Dr. Billy Taylor, Eddie Palmieri, Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, Russell Malone, Ron Blake, Angelique Kidjo, as I mentioned earlier, Regina Carter. So it's been incredible to get to record all of those duets with all these people, and to get to interview them, talk to them. And of course that is all also part of a radio show that I am also working on for Sirius XM. So yeah, this whole thing of performing and interviewing is another new thing that I am getting used to. I blame this on my manager—he is milking me for all of my creative juices, but that's good. I am glad somebody is doing that [laughs].

AAJ: And how did you come up with the idea of the Conversations with Christian?

CMB: I don't know. All of these things kinda unfolded at the same time. The conversations, the radio show, all of it just kinda hit all at the same time. Mainly just because my manager and I were brainstorming about different things to do, and somehow this idea about...well, I know how it sort of started... I've been the executive director for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem for the last five years, and one of the free programs is a series called "Harlem Speaks," where we interview some legendary musicians, mostly from Harlem. That's how it originally started, we interviewed musicians that were based exclusively in Harlem, and most people didn't know their story; they heard them perform, but they really didn't know their stories, so we had people up there like Jimmy "The Preacher" Robinson, and we would interview them. And the series became so popular, my manager said "man, you should have a radio show just on your own, doing this kind of stuff." And that turned into "well, why don't you do a whole album of duets?" And it just spun out of control. I still do Harlem Speaks when I'm in town, I still record my radio show...so yeah there's so much stuff going on right now, it's good.

AAJ: And how is it going with the Jazz Museum of Harlem?

CMB: The jazz museum is going really, really, really, really well. We have a new building that we're going to be moving to probably in 2012. We have been designated for a new spot directly across the street from the Apollo Theater. And we also are going to be sharing that space with the New York City Department of Tourism, so there's going to be some heavy traffic on that building, and we're really, really excited about it.

AAJ: I know I actually found out about the Jazz Museum of Harlem because of you.

CMB: Well, the story goes like this...Leonard Garment is a former White House lawyer under the Nixon administration. He is a huge jazz fan, grew up in New York, played saxophone when he was a teenager, and he is retired now, and wanted to start a museum. He's been a lifelong New Yorker, and realized that there is a museum in New York for almost everything in the arts, except jazz. There are museums that have jazz in it, but there is no place that is an exclusive jazz home, so he got some of his lawyer friends in Washington, D.C., with deep pockets, and they started a board to do a jazz museum.

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